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Continued: Columbia Heights cleans up problem rentals with landlord fines

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 26, 2013 - 4:41 PM

Assistant Fire Chief John Larkin, who oversees rental inspections and licensing, said the threat of fines and mitigation has gotten landlords’ attention.

“I welcome the police involvement in working with the rental properties and getting people to play by the rules,” Larkin said. “Now you are affecting the pocketbooks of the owners, we’ve found it to be fairly motivating for people to comply.”

In the Circle Terrace neighborhood, property crimes including burglary, theft and arson were cut in half, from 90 in 2007 to 44 in 2012. In Heritage Heights, those numbers dropped from 146 to 81 in the same time period, according to statistics provided by police.

Nadeau said the goal isn’t to drive rentals from the city. He empathizes with landlords — he’s one himself.

“I am an accidental landlord in another community,” said Nadeau, who is renting out his old home. “It’s a challenge to find great renters and make sure the renters are doing what they are supposed to be doing.”

When problems arise at a rental property, police reach out to landlord. They notify the landlord of the recent police calls, offer assistance and, in cases of repeat problems, will issue that $250 fine for 911 calls. Medical calls and calls for domestic violence are never considered nuisance calls, Nadeau said. Police issued 19 citations to landlords in 2012. In most cases, that leads to resolution. For more persistent problems, there’s mandatory crime mitigation plans.

The stick

Police have started eight mitigation plans with landlords since 2010. Landlords must meet with police at least once a month and make improvements.

“Initially they are not real happy about it. They seem to feel as though the city is singling them out,” Nadeau said. “By the end of the mitigation, the landlords have seen really what the city is going for is partnership.”

So far, no landlords have lost their license after starting mitigation.

“We bend over backward to work with the landlords,” a.

But there is some blunt talk, too. Some resistant landlords will argue they have older buildings and bothersome tenants.

“They are older buildings. We get that,” Austin said. But “you can keep the grass cut, the locks working, the smoke detectors working and the garbage picked up.”

Most landlords quickly recognize they need the help, police say.

Landlord Bob Mikulak completed a mitigation plan with police. Mikulak, who lives in Fridley, has owned an eight-unit apartment building in Columbia Heights for 15 years. Police were called there over complaints about drugs, property damage, assault and noise in 2011 and 2012.

He evicted some tenants and completed mitigation in July 2012. Police helped with tenant screening and drove by his property and made sure the parking lot was clear.

“They are really dedicated to helping us landlords. They are not here to lecture us,” Mikulak said.

He said he has learned the hard way that looks can be deceiving and that background checks really do help ferret out future problem tenants.

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